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6 Common Problems Of A Toyota Highlander Hybrid

6 Common Problems Of A Toyota Highlander Hybrid

What kind of problems does a Toyota Highlander Hybrid usually have? In this blog, we’ve outlined all the most important things you should watch for when you’re in the market for a Highlander Hybrid. However, let’s first start with a quick answer:

Most commonly, the Toyota Highlander Hybrid has electrical problems which result in malfunctioning systems or warning lights. Furthermore, it has issues with the failure of the power brake assist, the ABS actuators, or the vehicle speed control system; all issues make braking dangerous. Finally, a problem is engine stalling because of a faulty ECU (2006 -2010) or fuel pump (2017 – 2019).

However, that doesn’t tell the whole story. In the rest of the article, we’ll discuss every problem in detail. Furthermore, we’ll let you know how to identify it, fix it and how much it costs to fix. Read on!

1. Numerous Electrical Problems

If we could only describe one issue concerning the Highlander Hybrid, it would be the electrical problems that have plagued this model for more than a decade. When we go to the website of the NHTSA and look through the complaints that have been filled for models made between 2006 – 2017, 30% of them (about 10 – 100 complaints per generation) involve electrical problems.

The electrical problems that have been reported are all very different, and there’s no common theme. Some owners say that certain parts of the car malfunction. For example, the liftgate stops working, or the radio switches the bass, volume, and treble levels randomly.

Other owners report that many warning lights come on at once. At the same time, several warning messages appear, such as ‘charging system fails’ and ‘braking power low’. Typically, it seems that these warning messages disappear after a few minutes, and the car operates normally again.

What’s worrying about these problems is that they’ve been reported as early as 2006 but were still reported in the 2017 model. Especially the random flickering of the warning lights is a common theme here.

All of this suggests either that these cars have faulty wiring or that there’s some fault with the electronic control unit of the vehicle. In the case of the 2008 – 2011 Highlander Hybrid, a recall was issued for the Power Window Master Switch, of which the electrical contacts had too much grease.

Either way, all problems are very difficult to fix, and if your car has these problems, likely, they won’t go away. Therefore, test all electrical systems thoroughly before buying a used Highlander Hybrid.

2. Braking Problems

One of these Highlander Hybrid problems involves owners having trouble with braking. This can be due to an unresponsive brake pedal, a brake pedal getting stuck, or suddenly having a tough time pressing the brake pedal. These symptoms are more common in pre-2015 vehicles.

Camry Hybrids and Avalons have had the same problems. In the case of these cars, this problem was caused by problems with power brake assist or a failing ABS actuator. In the case of the Camry, Toyota has issued recalls for specific models, but they never did for the Avalon Hybrid and the Highlander.

If you experience hefty braking, it’s most likely a problem with the power brake assist. In this case, the vacuum pump that’s part of the braking system will need to be replaced, which will cost $700. If you experience an unresponsive brake pedal or a delay during braking, it’s likely a failing ABS actuator. Replacing this element will set you back between $900 – $1,100.

Unfortunately, the brakes still don’t seem to be the strong suit of the newer generations of Highlander either. Some 2015 – 2017 owners report a loud noise while braking coming from the back of the car. Furthermore, even 2020 owners complain about a braking power loss caused by the switch from regenerative to hydraulic braking. This seems to be a bad design more than anything, but it creates dangerous situations for drivers.

3. Sudden Acceleration

Another problem that exists across the line-up of different Toyota’s is the problem of sudden acceleration. The main problem here is that the car doesn’t accelerate at all (for example, when merging on a highway), or it accelerates out of nowhere (for example, when pressing the brakes).

Toyota has never genuinely admitted to having this problem; however, it has been so widely reported that there’s no getting around it. Furthermore, Toyota has also settled several court cases regarding this problem that affected the owners of the Camry. In those court cases, lawyers argued that the electronic throttle-control system software was at fault.

The problem seemed to be more severe with pre-2015 models. However, it’s still being reported with several Highlander Hybrids.

4. Engine Problems And Stalling

Engine problems are another common theme among earlier generations of the Highlander Hybrid. In 2006 – 2010 hybrids, this resulted in a sudden loss of power or stalling of the vehicle with a warning message that read ‘check hybrid system’. It turned out this was caused due to faulty Engine Control Unit (ECU) programming. Therefore, the Highlander’s fuel was not correctly supplied to the engine while using the stop and restart feature. Toyota did have a recall for this.

Later-generation of the Highlander Hybrid have had fewer problems with stalling. However, it seemed the 2017 – 2019 models were still quite susceptible to this particular problem since some reports were filled on this matter. Eventually, Toyota found out the 2017 – 2019 models had a faulty fuel pump that needed to be replaced (which also happened to be installed in 1.5 million Toyota’s overall).

The faulty fuel pump would break down and that would mean the driver experienced a complete loss of power. Toyota issued two recalls for the Highlander Hybrid. However, replacing the fuel pumps hasn’t been without problems since dealers reported a shortage of the replacement part because of the increase in demand.

5. Echos During Bluetooth Calls

One problem focused on more recent models of the Highlander Hybrid is a loud echo during a hands-free phone call. According to owners, this problem was quite severe in the 2016 – 2019 versions of the Highlander Hybrid, rendering the whole system useless.

The problem was so bad that Toyota even issued an instruction video on minimizing echo during these phone calls. The main takeaway from this is that you need to adjust the phone’s audio all the way up while adjusting the audio of the head unit down to below 45.

However, since this ‘tip’ involves picking up your phone while driving, it does take away from the whole hands-free aspect. Luckily, this problem was resolved in 2019 models manufactured later in the year and models from 2020 onwards since these have Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.

6. Soy-Based Wires

This is not necessarily a Toyota problem, but Toyota Highlander Hybrids have had issues with their soy-based wires. This is because Toyota (like many other car manufacturers) started using soy-based wiring in their cars at the beginning of the 2000s.

However, it turned out that many animals, such as rats and other rodents, like to use soy-based wiring for their nesting. Therefore, they would chew through the wires of the Highlander, resulting in the malfunctioning of whatever wire they were destroying. There are multiple ways to fix or prevent this problem, from using peppermint oil to storing your car inside.

Lawsuits have been filed against Toyota; however, these have been unsuccessful. This is because the courts have judged that soy-based wiring is not a manufacturing default, and instead of that, rodents and other animals are something we’ll have to deal with in life.

It’s something that a wide range of Toyota owners have to deal with as well since it’s a known issue for the Prius, RAV4 Hybrid, and Sequoia to name a few.

What’s The Worst Year Of The Toyota Highlander Hybrid?

After all this, you’re probably wondering what model year of the Toyota Highlander Hybrid is best and which ones you should avoid. First, it’s a good idea to establish that the Highlander Hybrid is a very decent and reliable car that can last you 250,000 – 290,000 miles on average, click that link to see our research on the Highlander.

However, in the case of the Highlander Hybrid, we have cars or generations that we would advise and others that we would shy away from.

The worst years of the Highlander Hybrid are the cars manufactured between 2006 – 2011. These models are the most complained about, and they have the most issues with electrical problems, sudden acceleration, or engine stalling.

The best years of the Highlander Hybrid are the cars manufactured in 2016. These cars are the least complaint about because they have few electrical issues and issues with sudden acceleration and not having problems with engine stalling. Furthermore, these cars don’t have issues with echoing during hands-free calls.

Highlander Hybrids that were manufactured in 2010 – 2012, 2015, or 2017 – 2021 are decent choices, but they’ll have their specific problems depending on the model year that you pick. The newer generation (2017 – 2021), of course, have fewer issues reported, but this is also because they’ve been on the road for less long, which means they haven’t been appropriately tested.

Closing Thoughts

The Toyota Highlander Hybrid, while generally a reliable vehicle with a solid transmission, is known to have a few recurring issues, particularly with electrical systems, braking mechanisms, sudden acceleration, engine stalling, and Bluetooth connectivity.

Moreover, the use of soy-based wiring in these models has also led to unexpected rodent damage. But to be fair to the Highlander, soy-based wiring has impacted dozens of vehicles and it’s a problem for everything from the Lexus RX450h to the Mazda 6 and everything in between.

The most problematic models are those manufactured between 2006 and 2011 due to a higher frequency of reported issues, while the 2016 models fare the best with fewer complaints. Despite the specific problems of the models from 2010-2012, 2015, and 2017-2021, these cars are decent choices.

However, potential owners are advised to be aware of these common problems and thoroughly test all systems before making a purchase. It’s also important to understand the not-so-common problems and look at every aspect of your Highlander from the rims and wheels to the windshield and electronics- and everything in between.

Although these issues might pose a concern for potential buyers, it is essential to remember that the Highlander Hybrid’s longevity often surpasses 250,000 miles. Furthermore, the manufacturer is known to issue recalls and instructions to handle the reported problems, enhancing the vehicle’s overall safety and functionality.


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